Topic: Travel

How to Take Memorable Travel Photos | Ask the Expert

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Winslow Park, Freeport, Maine See more of Sara's work at saragray.com.

Winslow Park, Freeport, Maine.
See more of Sara’s work at saragray.com. 

Sara Gray

Over the past decade, photographer Sara Gray’s travel assignments have taken her nearly everywhere in New England. She lives in southern Maine, but her eye finds beauty in any number of other places. Even though many of us have expensive digital cameras, not all travel photography is equal. To find out what goes into making great travel photos, we caught up with Gray at her Falmouth studio.

FILTERED RESULTS: When it comes to shooting sunsets, what you see is not always what you get. A staple in Gray’s photo bag is her split neutral-density filter. Dark on the top and clear on the bottom, it evens out the stark contrast between a well-lit sky and a dark foreground, preserving the detail in both parts of the image. Other essentials: a tripod, and lenses that will let you go long (200mm) and wide (24mm).

STUDY UP: Amateur photographers are often one-and-done types, Gray notes. The best photography, though, requires examination. See what kinds of vantage points you can explore: Get on the ground and shoot up at your subject; go high and see what that perspective offers. Or, bravely go where few photographers are willing: “I carry waders in my car so I can get offshore into the water if I need to,” Gray says.

THE LIGHT TOUCH: Squaring up the kids so they face the sun may put them in some great light, but all that bright sunshine is going to make for some uncomfortable subjects. Avoid the squinted-eye look, Gray advises, by backlighting them. Add a little more punch to the image by using a white surface–a card, a sheet, even a parked car–as a reflector, to return some of that light onto your subjects.

THE RULE OF THIRDS: When it comes to shooting landscapes, never split your photograph in half between sky and foreground; instead, go top- or bottom-heavy. What you want to reveal should determine how you frame the shot. If there’s an interesting weather situation or cloud formation, go for the big sky, Gray says; it’ll also give your image a more expansive look.

EARLY AND LATE: Landscape photographers like Gray love not just the end of the day, when a great sunset can set a sky on fire, but the predawn hours, too, when the early light gives off wonderful bluish tones. Even better, contrast is at a minimum. But tracking down that light requires some commitment. Out late, up early, “landscape photographers don’t sleep much in the summertime,” Gray jokes.

DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS: Just because you can take a shot of an entire flowerbed doesn’t mean you should. Instead, Gray says, consider going with a wide-angle lens and coming in close on a particular detail: the center of a bloom, say, or just a petal. “Blur the background by opening up the aperture to F2.8 or F4,” she advises, “so that what you’re shooting becomes the focus.”


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